Community college programs emphasize independence in education, employment Training targets widowers, homemakers, teen parents


Eight years ago after her youngest child started school, Robin Collins, 41, decided she wanted to help her husband with the family expenses. But the Catonsville mother of five had not worked in years -- and had no high school diploma.

She got a hand from Catonsville Community College in the form of Project Second Start, a program that since 1981 has helped about 300 people a year with job training, schooling and counseling.

"I knew I needed help in getting my diploma and then getting into school, but I wasn't divorced or alone, I just wanted to help my family and receive an education," said Collins, who has since graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and now is a registered diagnostic medical sonographer.

Project Second Start is one of three programs offered by the Community Colleges of Baltimore County aimed at helping homemakers, widowers, teen-age parents and others seeking job training to help them become more independent.

"We want to give those who come to us marketable skills to find a job and in some cases just help them refine their job skills in order to get a better job," said Joan Swiston, director of Project Second Start.

Her program, funded through grants, state and federal money, is similar to programs called Changes at Dundalk Community College, and Turning Point at Essex Community College.

All three operate with a high degree of flexibility. Participants do not need to be students, and there is no minimum amount of time they must spend in the program -- some visit over a period of years, while others may get what they need in one or two sessions, said Alice Moore, director of Changes.

Moore said about 70 percent to 75 percent of those who go through one of the programs find jobs afterward, while many others move on to four-year institutions. And the community college system follows up for the first year after someone leaves the program.

Such programs fit well into the county's emphasis on employment skills and independence, rather than public assistance, county officials say.

"We would like to see people blossom in job training programs," said Suzy Beagle, a job network program planner at the Department of Social Services.

To have that training take place in an academic setting, rather than in a social services office, "makes it much easier because people feel more comfortable and better about themselves," she said.

Melinda Schneider, 30, a Glen Burnie resident, is among those who have been helped by Project Second Start.

Four years ago, her husband passed away and she wanted to find a way to better support her newborn son. Schneider knew she had an interest in computer graphics, but needed help finding a way to go to school while raising her child.

"It was very scary going back to school after 10 years, but they were very supportive," said Schneider.

And last May, after more than a year in Project Second Start, she graduated from Catonsville with a degree in corporate communication. She is currently attending the University of Baltimore, where she hopes to pursue a career as a Web designer.

Schneider and Collins were among those who attended a recent reunion of people whose lives were helped by the community college programs.

Melinda Allen, 22, has been in Turning Point at Essex since fall 1996. As a single parent, she hopes to graduate and go on to a career in radiology.

At the reunion, Allen was glad to see so many people who once were in her situation and now are making a good living thanks to one of the three programs.

"These programs are an excellent opportunity for anyone who may need emotional or economic support," she said. "It's great to see so many people here who are now in the work force and supporting their families."

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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